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Born Ronald and Bryan Williams c. 1971 and c. 1973, respectively, in New Orleans, LA. Addresses: Record company--Cash Money Records, New Orleans, LA.
In the early 1990s, brothers Ronald "Slim" and Bryan "Baby" Williams founded a creative force in the independent market that within five years became one of the rap industry's most successful record labels. In 1999 alone, Cash Money Records, driven by a form of hip-hop that blends rap with guitar, drum, and keyboard-infused party music--not to mention the substantial sales of records by Juvenile B.G., Lil' Wayne, and the Hot Boys (a tag team that includes these artists plus a new rapper named Turk)--sold more than nine million albums. Based in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city far removed from the major hip-hop scenes of New York and Los Angeles, Cash Money helped establish the South as a viable contender in the rap business.
While the two brothers seem polar opposites--Baby is energetic and robust, Slim is tall and gangly with a sense of calm--both exert a paternal manner over the Cash Money family. As Lil' Wayne explained to Rolling Stone writer Jason Fine, "these guys picked me up and set me straight, taught me a lot--they been like fathers to me." The label is a close-knit, supportive organization; its artists, including Slim and Baby, producer Mannie Fresh, four rappers, and staff, must adhere to certain rules in order to maintain their positions. Specifically, they must show up to the office headquarters every day, be willing to record in the studio or tour when told, and, most importantly, they must remain free of drugs.
Slim and Baby, born around 1971 and 1973, respectively, spent their childhood in a rough, uptown New Orleans neighborhood called the Third Ward on Valence Street. The boys' real mother died when Slim was just nine years old and Baby was seven. Consequently, their father--who ran a local grocery store and lounge he named the Gladys Bar after Slim and Baby's mother--raised the boys alone for many years, instilling in his sons a solid work ethic and teaching them how to run a business. But neither Slim nor Baby had the opportunity to develop a relationship with their dad outside the family store. "My dad was working so much to make sure we had everything that he never really had the time to spend with us," said Slim, as quoted by Fine. "I used to go and work with my dad, help clean up, and he showed me how he ran his little business. He wanted us to be our own entrepreneurs. So I learned how to handle the money, the books." Unfortunately, the Williams' father, who died in 1995, only saw the beginnings of his sons' venture into the business of rap music.
He did, however, believe in his sons' potential. In 1992, Slim and Baby launched Cash Money with money loaned to them by their father, then began selling tapes around New Orleans from the back of their car. At the time, a new form of hip-hop known as bounce--an upbeat dance music driven by drum tracks and improvised raps--was popular around the city's clubs. The Williams brothers, too, picked up on the trend, and experienced initial encouragement with well-received recordings by local artists such as UNLV, Kilo-G, Miss Tee, Lil' Slim, and Edgar "Pimp Daddy" Givens. However, hometown notoriety was not enough for Baby and Slim, who both wanted national recognition, but they soon felt discouraged over the lack of commitment shown by many of the rappers on the Cash Money roster.
"We was trying to teach them the way to do this thing--as far as handling meetings, signing autographs, doing interviews, showing up for shows--but they wasn't hungry enough," Slim told Fine. "They'd make a little money and everything would just go to the wind. They were getting into drugs, smoking weed, and it was taking away from them handling their business. I was like, man, I can't deal with this, man. So I just woke up one morning and told my brother, 'You know what, bruh, I got to get rid of everybody over here and start from scratch.'" Incidentally, three of the label's original artists--Givens, Kilo-G, and Albert "Yella" Thomas of UNLV--died from lifestyle-related, violent incidents since Slim and Baby resolved to clean up the label in 1995.
That year, the brothers abandoned the entire Cash Money lineup, save B.G., then a 12-year-old heroin addict whose father had been shot and killed a year earlier during a robbery. Similar to Lil' Wayne, B.G. found a source of guidance in Slim and Baby. They took B.G. in, raised him like a son, saw that he went to school, and educated him in hip-hop. And while the troubled youngster undoubtedly had tough problems to overcome, he was dedicated to straightening out his life and learning all he could about the rap business. According to Slim, he and Baby would rather take on less talented rappers who take their work seriously over those with greater talent who lack discipline and a willingness to abide by the Cash Money code of ethics.
After struggling through 1995 to reinvent Cash Money, Slim, Baby, and Fresh, who had joined the team a few years earlier as house producer, released Chopper City by B.G. in 1996, signaling a new direction for the label. Rather than focusing on strictly New Orleans bounce, the Cash Money team for the album instead mixed the bounce style with hardcore rap, introduced more melody and synthesized guitars, and infused the tracks with an overall party/dance sound. Such a concept was developed largely by Fresh, who plays the drum breaks himself for Cash Money-produced records, as well as most of the guitars, bass, and some of the keyboards. He grew up primarily on soul music--listening to his father's favorites such as Marvin Gaye--but draws inspiration from all types of music, from classical to hard rock.
B.G., although only 16 at the time, also tackled some challenging subjects. Amid the usual rhymes celebrating cars, money, and women, he exhibited an ability to write more vulnerable narratives as well, such as discussions about death, his own drug addiction, and a difficult childhood. Therefore, Cash Money, upon the release of Chopper City, had emerged with a whole new form of rap. Not only was the label's hometown known for inventing bounce, but for creating a hip-hop sound exemplified by B.G.'s debut. "When we was doing into it, I ain't lying, people was kind of scared," Fresh recalled to Fine. "'Cause this was a new thing, and we were always known as a bounce label. But when it hit the street, it was like the new craze. It left all the other cats that was doing bounce, like, five years behind."
Within two years, the Cash Money organization was attracting major-label interest. On June 18, 1998, Universal Records--a part of Universal Music Group, which encompasses MCA Records, MCA Nashville, GRP Recording Company, Geffen Records, Interscope Records, Hip-O Records, Universal Music International, MCA Music Publishing, and Universal Concerts--signed an exclusive agreement with Cash Money to distribute, promote, market, and generally support the label's artists. "Bryan and Ronald are true entrepreneurs, and their track record in discovering and developing artists from the ground up is extraordinary," said Jean Riggins, President of Black Music for Universal, as quoted by the Cash Money website. However, under the agreement, Baby and Slim retained full ownership and artistic control over the label's recordings.
Subsequently, the Cash Money roster flourished, bringing the New Orleans sound to hip-hop fans across the United States. According to Fresh, the success proved the city's importance in the rap industry. "I always had people telling me, 'You got to do a West Coast track, you got to make an East Coast track,' and in the beginning I kind of fell into that mentality," he told Fine. "But my dad, who's always been, like, the Number One person behind me, he said, 'Don't change your stuff. Show them what your town sounds like.' So I thought, if we gonna be accepted, let's be accepted for something that no one else is already doing."
by Laura Hightower
Slim and Baby Williams's Career
Formed Cash Money Records, 1991; released B.G.'s Chopper City, 1996; signed distribution deal with Universal Records, 1998; signed artists such as Juvenile, Lil' Wayne, and the Hot Boys, a rap collective, who sold more than nine million albums in 1999.
- Rolling Stone, June 8, 2000.
- USA Today, February 18, 2000.
- Cash Money Records, http://www.cashmoney-records.com (October 17, 2000).
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